Saturday, 24 March 2007

Islamic Tolerance by Ali Ferda Sevin

Ali Ferda Sevin
December 7, 2003
Historians tell us that the Ottoman Empire practiced a very tolerant form of Islam during its 600-year rule over Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and much of Northern Africa. This is an extraordinary observation since the main purpose of Turkish conquests had been Islamic expansion under the Caliphate authority of the Ottoman sultans. It is an accurate assessment, however, when put in context of its time in history. The Ottoman conquests were indeed fueled by Islamic fervor but they did not feature forced conversions of the conquered peoples to Islam as would be expected at the time. It was a period in history after the Crusades when religious rivalry between Christian and Muslim to save the human soul had dehumanized both Christian and Muslim.
Sure, many churches were converted to mosques to accommodate the conquerors but many were left also for the local population to worship according to their convictions. The Ottoman Turks had devised a system of governance in which the people of the conquered lands would exercise their own religion and govern their own affairs provided they remain royal subjects of the empire. It was known as the Millet system. It nourished the empire for 600 years during the Age of Empires. Turkish ships even took Jews from Spain to save them from The Inquisition in 1492 as Christopher Columbus was leaving port going west. Jews, who had suffered under dogmatic Christian persecution, had their Synagogues restored in Ottoman-conquered lands. They prospered in the multicultural Ottoman society as did the Christian Armenians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Slavs and other non-Muslims.
Ironically, the Millet system also contributed to the Ottoman collapse when the Age of Nation-States began to supplant the Age of Empires. Eventually, the well-preserved ethnic, religious, and social identities of the multitudes in the Ottoman Empire became a weapon against the empire in World War I. Russians exploited the Armenians, Britain and France exploited the Greeks, the Arabs, and others. Muslim Arabs and Muslim Kurds became no less hostile to Turkish rulers of the empire than Christian Greeks and Christian Armenians. All were nationalists now, regardless of religion. The Turks also discovered their own national identity in the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and won a war of independence against the victors of World War I. They created the Republic of Turkey under the tutelage of Mustafa Kemal as the Ottoman Empire broke up into some 25 nations (The number is still growing with the breakup of Yugoslavia and The Soviet Union).
Mustafa Kemal, a product of the Ottoman military education system, saw that the doctrinaire Islamic education in the madrassas (schools run by the mosques) were inadequate to prepare Turkish youngsters for the 20th century. These schools run by Muslim clerics had been a source of general as well as religious learning in the old days. They were similar to Catholic schools today but they had degraded dramatically in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. Education for Turkish pupils, who spoke no Arabic, consisted of reciting the Koran in Arabic. Among the first of many reforms Mustafa Kemal imposed on the Turkish public in dictatorial fashion was a secular public education system to replace the madrassas. Closing the madrassas was the essential step to take power away from those who would use religious indoctrination of young minds for political purposes. He then abolished the Caliphate as no longer a responsibility that the Turkish Republic must inherit from The Ottoman Empire. These actions still stand as the Turkish version of Jefferson’s wall between church and state. They had to be done dictatorially at the time if they would be done at all. Mustafa Kemal, who later earned the surname Ataturk (father Turk), was no dictator, however, in either the historical sense or as we define a dictator now. He guided the parliament he helped create in creating the democratic institutions that would deny power to any dictator including himself. No dictator in history is known to have done that.
Judging history bereft of historical context often leads to error. Regrettably, Christian historians have portrayed Turkish history only from a modern perspective most of the time. Out of historical context, it is logical to conclude that Thomas Jefferson was not a proponent of liberty since he himself owned slaves. Yet, It was Jefferson’s immortal words, "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" that inspired a nation to end slavery even as he owned slaves himself in a society that required it from a man in his position in his time. Christians condemned Galileo for agreeing with Copernicus that the earth revolved around the sun instead of the other way around as the Church asserted. Judging Christians of the Inquisition era out of historical context, one would conclude that Christianity is incompatible with science. Yet, it was the Christian reformation that gave us the scientific explosion we are enjoying today.
The assertion that Islam is not compatible with democracy is similarly flawed. The Wahabbi version of Islam practiced by the Taliban in Afghanistan is incompatible with democracy, as Christianity of the Inquisition was incompatible with science. Islamists of Osama bin Laden’s world yearn for the glory of Islam under Ottoman rule without knowing how it came about when it did and why it collapsed when it did. The following excerpt from the al-Qaeda manifesto, issued after the terrorist attacks in Istanbul, is instructive. It appeared on the Islamist website, al-Mujahidoun, and was translated from the Arabic by Reuters:
" In Turkey today, the vanguards of the Abu Hafz al-Masri Brigades targeted the British consul, Roger Short, because of his extensive experience in combating Islam and because he is considered the mastermind of British policy in the region comprising Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. Our cars of death struck the consulate building ... and by the grace of God, he was killed… As for you Turkey, isn't it time you left the Crusader army and returned to the Islamic nation? Isn't it time you withdrew your army from Afghanistan; stopped all ties with the Zionists entity; stopped providing American with soldiers for Iraq; left the Crusader Atlantic alliance? We consider the government of Turkey as a first-class agent for America and therefore it must choose - peace or America. O Bush, what have you done to America and its allies ... where is the security you promised them, where is the developed Afghanistan, where is the free, secure Iraq? By God Bush, you've fallen into a trap as we planned for you. You're engaged in a war with people who love death as much as you love life. So prepare yourself for what is coming. Listen to us, you criminal, the cars of death will not stop until you concede to our demands and they include:
1. That they free our prisoners in American prisons, especially the prisoners of Guantanamo and the mojahed Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and those in the jails of the Arab, western, Persian and Jewish tails of America.
2. That they stop their war against Islam and Muslims around the world in the name of fighting terrorism.
3. To purify all Islamic land from the filth of the Jews and Americans, including Jerusalem and Kashmir.
4. For America to stop interfering between us and the tyrannical governments which rule Muslims and for us to set up an Islamic caliphate [state].
O Islamic nation, you must support the mojahedin to victory ... God is Greatest, Islam is on the way.
Abu Hafz al-Masri Brigades.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited."
It is clear that the Wahabbi-inspired Islamists of Osama bin-Laden want an Islamic Caliphate to rule the world. For about two decades, they have been dreaming a world populated by subservient Muslims controlled by a Caliph of their choosing. They infiltrated mosques to find malleable youngsters and turn them into brainwashed automatons they could activate at appropriate times to commit mass murder. They imagine the terror they create by mass murder will bring the masses to accept Islam and deliver them from terror imposed on them by "The Grace of God." They are delusional in the extreme. They admire the glory they see in the 600-year rule of The Ottoman Caliphate but don’t comprehend what made it possible. It was Islamic tolerance practiced by the Ottoman Turks--not religious dogma—that legitimized Ottoman rule in its time. It was ethnic awakening even in defiance of religious dogma that broke up the empire.
In the Age of Nation-States, the Pope is still the highest Catholic cleric; the Greek and Armenian Patriarchs are at the top of the hierarchy in their respective Orthodox faiths but they don’t preside over any "Global Christian Nation." An "Islamic Nation" in the Age of Nation-States is a delusional concept. If a Caliphate is needed to provide spiritual guidance to Muslims of the world, it is needed because not enough Muslims are alarmed by mass murders committed in the name of Islam and Muslims must find a way to bring the Islamist madmen among them to justice to take control of their religion.